Monday, May 08, 2006

Unthoughtful and Insensitive:
Let's Not Add to the Burden and the Pain

A number of months ago, Marvin Schick ran paid Day School Advocacy Ads in the Jewish Press. Sadly enough, these paid advertisements were only accepted by the Jewish Press and were refused for publication by the Yated Ne'eman and the Ha'Modia. The advertisements were not designed to invoke universal agreement, but rather discussion.

There was one particular advertisement (Message 7 of 12) that really struck a chord with me. Since I am unable to post the PDF file, I am duplicating the text below:

Let's Not Add to the Burden and Pain

Yeshivas must rely on tuition to pay staff and meet their obligations. They do not have to add to the burden and emotional strain in many religious homes.

Our schools teach Torah, how to daven and how to perform mitzvos. They also teach midos, proper behavior and respect toward teachers, parents, and fellow students. At times, children are taught to believe that money is theirs for the asking, as when they are told to ask parents for money for trips, tzedakah and gifts. They come to think that money comes from a water tap.

Even when parents can afford it, this is wrong. But many parents cannot afford it. When a child says to a parent, "my teacher said that I must bring in money" and the parent doesn't have it think of the pain--for parent and child. Think of parents with five or more children in school who do not have as much as five dollars to spare.

Money matters should be between the school and parents.

Well, I am happy that Dr. Marvin Schick wrote about this issue. Long before this advertisement appeared in the Jewish Press, and long before blogging was even a thought in my mind, I have been talking about this issue (to my husband). Nearly every time we are visiting family, I notice notes sent home with the children with requests for money for this, that, or another thing.

One particular note got me hot under the collar. I noticed a handwritten and decorated invitation from daughter to mother posted on the billboard requesting $18 per head ($36 minimum for a mother-daughter couple) for a luncheon for Mother's Day. Well, color me mad. If this is not the definition of chutzpah, then I don't know what is: a child asks her parent to spend $36 on lunch (or a child's teacher TELLS the parent to cough up $36 for lunch)? Getting a young child all excited about a big class event that they helped prepare for gives the parents little opportunity to say "no, honey, this is not in the budget and we are not attending."

Add to these extracurricular events the cost of babysitting (a near reality in frum families, especially if the father is working on a Sunday), and $36 easily becomes $50 plus dollars for a short outing. Even teenage babysitters are unionized these days. Times have changed from from the "good old days" when a babysitter babysat for $1 per hour per child and anything more seemed generous.

I'm still shocked every time I see these requests for money sent home through the children. Having attended public school the constant requests for money from parents (send via the children) just didn't happen. In elementary school, we were not required to buy many extras beyond standard supplies. By middle school there were more cash outlays required as we were required to buy a PE uniform that cost something like $15 or $20. It was extremely ugly, and was probably the most expensive outfit I ever owned at the age of 12 years.

In high school there were plenty of activities that required some investment: sports, band, and choir. But parental permission was required to be involved in the first place, most students earned some of their own money, and most extra-curricular activities had some parental oversight which kept any lofty dreams and ideas in check with reality. More recently my public high school has tacked on $10 a year lab fees for certain courses, but all cash outlay is clearly delineated in the student manual and is known to parents and students alike, months before the start of the next school year when students register for their classes.

Growing up my mother would always express just how inappropriate it was when a (public school) teacher would assign projects that required the parents to invest in a myriad of art supplies unexpectedly. My mother, who grew up in an extremely poor family, was sensitive to these issues and would remind us that not every parent can afford these expenses, and that if and when additional supplies were required, that the parents should be given ample warning to prepare and that ideally a fund should be collected to assist poorer students with these expenses.

I realize that Orthodox Yeshivot and Day Schools have a need to raise money though other channels and that the constant requests that go home to parents, via the children often are the means to bringing in the extra funds needed. But, it is nevertheless completely inappropriate to send these notices home, especially with elementary school children!

It is cruel and insensitive to spring one unexpected and unbudgeted request after another on the parents, for one child after another. While we may never be able to resolve the "tuition crisis," we could at least alleviate some of the extra burdens on our families by putting a stop to this practice that I can deem as nothing less than unthoughtful and insensitive.

We already have activity fees for required activities and materials fees for required materials. If a teacher wants to require an activity or material , that expense should be brought to the administration for approval and added to the activity fee. If a teacher wants to have an optional activity, those expenses should be delineated before the start of the school year, along with price and due date for funds, and be provided to parents directly along with the tuition bill. This way parents can choose which activities fit into their already tight budgets and not be put in the uncomfortable positions that they are being placed in currently.

Teaching proper values to children is an uphill battle today. Let's not let the hill get any steeper and let our schools know just how inappropriate these requests are. Parents should be in charge of their budgets, not their children.


BrooklynWolf said...


For a while, when I was using Microsoft Money to track our expenses, I had two categories: Tuition and "other school expenses" (which covered everything from registration fees to the $8 for the kids to go to the pizza shop for a siyum.) Needless to say, by the end of the year, the "extras" category ended up being fairly large.

The Wolf

Orthonomics said...

Wolf, would you mind providing a ballpark figure for number of kids?

This problem seems more prevelant in NY (where my example came from), so I'd be curious to hear a figure from your side of the woods and maybe make a follow-up post.

This is certainly not to say that our community doesn't have issues too. Overnight class trips, Shabatons, etc cost parents a pretty penny (skiing, baseball games, food, resorts, etc).

And, I once ran into a lady pulling out money for the 4th time in one month for senior activities. For crying out loud, spread out the damage over more time. Why does every activity need to be made in the last month of the year? Problems with cash flow are how even those who can "afford" but are on the edge, find themselves with consumer debt they can't pull out of too easily.

We need to treat the parents with more care than they are being treated with now.

Anonymous said...

I was told by a parent with a graduating senior (my kids are all in elementary or nursery) that the costs from April to June of senior year is over $1000.

We get lots of "extras" but they're all small dollar items and don't add up to much yet.

I'd be in favor of a schedule of events and associated costs going out at the beginning of the year so the parents can budget and discuss with their kids what they can go to. That way, if the kid isn't interested in the butterfly exhibit that costs $12, but is up for the siyyum at the pizza shop for $10, the parents can make that decision with the kids. (By make the decision with the kids, the parents decide how much is in the budget, and let the kids figure out what events they want to do.)

And I'm not in NY, so this thing is pretty common for out of towners as well.

Esther said...

Great post as usual. We haven't really had to deal with much of this yet but I was thinking that my parents must have dealt with this, and I wasn't really aware of it at the time. The school would just send home the latest notice about an event, supplies, etc. and my parents would send a check. (B"H they were financially able to do so.) I think the comment about having the kids choose between the activities is a good suggestion that fits your previous post about teaching kids about expenses -- although, as you mention, it is not always feasible to refuse to pay for activities in which the whole class will be participating on a school day.

Orthonomics said...

JDub-Over $1000 for graduation expenses? That is just heartwrenching. You are correct that the parents should set the budget, not the school! Especially with tuition already costing an arm and a leg and then some.

Esther-Well, when we get a surprise that is out of proportion, the school will just have to meet the likes of SephardiLady and SephardiMan, and SephardiKids will just have to suffer a bit. It will be worth making the point and won't hurt them in the long term!

I have no issues giving my children a "school budget" for activities and would very much like the schools to reinforce my chinuch! And, we certainly aren't teaching that money grows on trees here.

Anonymous said...

Well, they weren't all graduation expenses, although some were (gown rental, etc.) Some were things like senior class trip, shabbaton, etc., that totalled $1000.

Orthonomics said...

Spending that much money is absolutely ridiculous and just goes to prove how little thinking we do as a community about those with less, who should not be in the position to have to make their child(ren) the odd ones out.

Do you want to know the cost of my high school's graduation trip? $5 and that included a (trief) BBQ lunch. (I actually chose not to go because I had to do some work that day). I find it absolutely insensitive to make expensive trips that end up putting many parents into hock. While many people might be sad that they went to public school, I think I learned some of my best lessons there!

Anonymous said...

I agree. I can't imagine being the kid who can't go to 6 flags with the rest of the class because their parents can't afford it.

At least there aren't proms! Those things were mucho dinero. The tux, corsage, and limo rental?

Orthonomics said...

Proms vary by school. I'm sure in some of the wealthier areas, parents shell out a ton. At my school, the tickets were free or nearly free, and while plenty of people indulged in tux rentals and other luxeries, others kept to a strict budget.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Long Island, in the late '80s. Nothing was free.

I am glad that my kids go to a school where this won't be an issue, not just for the financial reasons. The pressure for prom was pretty intense.

Orthonomics said...

Hey JDub-I'm thrilled too that we won't have to deal with proms, dates, and the pressure of it all too. My school wasn't so bad, but many are.

However, I would like it is parents didn't have to shell out again and again. Just bring me the menu and we will be more than happy to give our kids a budget of their own and the freedom to choose what fits in that budget. (Quite honestly, we will be lucky if anything beyond one trip to the pizza shop will fit in it.)

Anonymous said...

Sephardi Lady requested that I contribute this comment as per my comments on to the frum financial crisis

We were a family with four children in new jersey, but atypical --neither set of parents could contribute a penny of financial assistance to us in terms of buying homes, tuition, vacations, credit cards, yerusha, anything. We lived on our own financial merit as a very successful professional couple commuting into Manhattan daily.

In the modern frum community, there is no place financially for our type of couple. The basic economics presume extended family assistance or yerusha --e.g., the pie being divided is by definition more than simply the after tax income of the couple adjusted for further deduction for health care and retirement.

As a result, we made aliya 3 years ago --and discovered the Darker Side of Aliya that is forbidden to discuss in America where everyone must be a cheerleader "auf yenem tuchus". Our aliya has been a failure, but now we have discovered that somewhere in year three on Israeli salaries one passes the Financial Point of No Return in terms of returning to America and jumping back onto the frum financial rat race. After losing three years of income, and calculating the remaining years of career even if we make back our prior pay grades, we will either be able to apy for retirement and health care or deeply reduced tuition for the children.

As a result, we are literally trapped in Israel with no remaining alternative of returning now that the Aliya has failed.

And, of course, we will soon join the astounding large percentage of American-American spoouse families that divorce 3-5 years after Aliya due to the drop in ramat hachayim --something no shaliyach or nefesh b'nefesh mentions before you sign on the dotted line.

Anonymous said...

The flip side of this is that a few years ago, my son's school tried to institute an activites fee to avoid the ineffiencies of a dozen small checks a year and allow some rational planning by both parents and the school. Sure enought a few small expenses were forgotten in the planning of the fee,so they had to be charged seperately. Similarly, though the idea was to have one fee that would cover the average costs of these activites over the 8 years of elementary school,some people compained that the actual expenses were $70 and the fee was $75. Somehow, in those classes where the fee was the other way around, no one compained. The board got slammed, no one understood what they were trying to do and they went back tot he old way.